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    What We Learned from the Fresh Connections Food Safety Series

    The 2011 Fresh Connections series on food safety is at an end. We accomplished six successful seminars covering major regions in the U.S. and I’ve gotten to meet and talk with dedicated industry professionals from all parts of the supply chain. As we draw this series to a close, it is important to reflect on what we learned from these six forums.

    First, let’s look at what we learned from the presenters and the importance of truly understanding how to handle internal and external communication. We addressed how to communicate effectively with the outside world and especially with customers, about the expectations related to food safety issues. The sessions highlighted the importance of communicating internally with all employees on food safety and putting practices in place to actually measure success. 

    We tackled the issue of communication and crisis management and the importance of having a crisis management plan in place. The role of people in sales, marketing and production was emphasized with respect to the worth they bring to support their company’s food safety objectives. People in the sales and marketing side are valuable tools to utilize when dealing with a food safety crisis.

    Traceability is an integral part of any comprehensive food safety program, and we had a constructive update on the issues involving traceability and the Produce Traceabilty Initiative (PTI). Ed Treacy, PMA’s vice president of supply chain efficiencies, shared the most current information about the industry’s efforts to develop a common language for product coding and encouraged companies to meet the traceability challenge head-on.

    However, perhaps even more valuable than the facts presented in the seminar was how the involvement of such a wide variety of people reflected our industry’s commitment to food safety. I was encouraged by the number of participants that attended these Fresh Connection events and those numbers reiterate the focus our industry has on taking food safety seriously.

    As I observed the people that attended, their enthusiasm and interest reflected a sincere desire to delve into the topic and rise to the challenge. The level of questions posed and the depth of discussion demonstrated how people in our industry are doing a lot of thinking about food safety. They’re taking responsibility, looking for and finding solutions, and listening to key collaborators. We welcomed retailers, foodservice distributors, regulatory officials, state health department representatives, and third party food safety solution providers to share their perspective and experiences.

    The participation from FDA and state officials was extremely beneficial. Anything we can do to increase exchange between the industry and those who regulate us is always positive. We had a chance to “look behind the curtain” and view things from a regulator’s perspective, including the challenges they face. That type of learning helps us better do our jobs. I’ve had a lot of positive response about the participation of these regulators and we’re very thankful that they are willing to take the time and engage with us.

    While these Fresh Connections events resulted in a fair amount of engagement, they are in many ways just step one. The events provided a formal forum to engage various people across the industry at various points along the supply chain. However, of even greater value is how these events result in further correspondence by email, phone and in some cases direct visits to discuss food safety programs and address specific issues some companies might have. Personally, I find the connection I make with people whose food safety thinking has been stimulated to be the true merit of such events.

    Although we’ve traveled this road for a while, the journey is really just starting. If you want to have an effective food safety program, you must be involved and educated. Our industry is fortunate to have available a wealth of resources including those from the Center for Produce Safety, agricultural extension, and local trade associations. You can also count on PMA for a variety of tools and information on food safety. If you’re interested in knowing more about what was presented at the Fresh Connections events, you can find my Fresh Connections food safety presentation on-line at the PMA Food Safety Resource Center. I look forward to even greater engagement with the industry as we continue to advance through this frontier of food safety.

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